A Blended Learning Format, adopted in an intermediate foreign language classroom, led to a significant increase in the students' oral output. In contrast to discussing topics and associated cultural artifacts in class, students were led through a variety of activities online with a focus on oral production.
From an interactionist perspective (Gass, 1997) and following a communicative approach to language teaching, the most salient aspects of language learning are opportunities to use the language in communication tasks. Research on face-to-face foreign language classes has shown that each individual student only engages in limited conversations and produces little language.in the average fifty or ninety minute class. Research on computer-mediated communication (for summary see for example Ortega, 1997) has found that computer-mediated communication holds several advantages over the face-to-face classroom: slowed down conversation, practice and planning time, democratization of participation, increase in language use, and increase in time spent on language production. Unfortunately computer-mediated activities have logistical disadvantages such as time differences for native-speaking communication partners, differing levels of commitment to the partnership and technology breakdowns. Furthermore text-based media have the disadvantage of avoiding issues of intonation and pronunciation while voice-based tools can reintroduce anxiety with the pressure to produce accurate language spontaneously. Hence, voice-based simulated conversation tools are being explored as part of asynchronous online lessons. The focus of this presentation is on a curricular reform project in a third-year language and culture course at a small liberal arts college in the Midwestern United States.. The goal of this curricular innovation was to increase students' language production and thereby improve their proficiency level. A secondary goal was to decrease learner anxiety in second language production. Thirdly, the curricular reform was intended to decrease logistical problems such as the availability of classroom space and the increasing number of students having scheduling conflicts. In order to assess the feasibility and the effectiveness of the curricular change, a pilot study was conducted. In this study four one-hour modules were designed in an asynchronous online format. Each module was conducted both in an online and a face-to-face format. The order was switched with each module, in order to avoid a learning effect favoring one instructional format. This pilot program sought to determine whether online teaching modules resulted in greater oral output when compared with the current class format of face-to-face teacher-led instruction. In addition, the study examined which students exhibited the largest increase in participation from the classroom to the online lessons. The hypothesis of the pilot program was that the online modules would produce greater oral production and that the students who spoke the least in the classroom would show the largest gains in online performance. A post assessment survey looked at learners' attitudes on blended learning to observe learner affect and determine if the course redesign could lead to increased learner motivation. Various cultural teaching modules were chosen from the curriculum of an Intermediate German Conversation and Culture class in order to create online lessons for the students. The topics chosen were: "GrÃ¼ne Politik "(Green Politics), "Migration" (Migration), "Vergangenheit" (The Past), and "Anselm Kiefer und seine Kunst" (Anselm Kiefer and his Art). Each of these topics was taught in class using the textbook and a teacher-led lecture format. These four lessons were videotaped. Four online "Mashups" (Interactive sites using various CALL applications including voice-based simulated conversations) were developed to correlate with each in-class lesson. These Mashups were created using Michigan State University's CLEAR (Center for Language Education and Research) Rich Internet Applications. Results showed that there was a significant increase in oral production in the online lessons. Average percent increase from in-class to online instruction was 299%. The percentage of students who showed an increase in oral production from in-class to online instruction was 100%. The results give a picture of total time spent on oral production as well as the type of language produced in each format. The anonymous survey also produced many positive opinions from the students regarding online work, learner affect and motivation. The presentation will outline the format and results of the pilot study and discuss ways in which the curriculum for this course has been redesigned to enhance oral output and learner motivation in the classroom. Possible implications for future research on this topic will also be discussed.
Susan Hojnacki is a Ph.D. student in the German program at Michigan State University as well as an Adjunct Professor of German at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her research interests include technology use in the teaching of second languages as well as the development of intercultural competence via technology and study abroad programs.